Supporting displaced children in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Published: Jan 29, 2021 Reading time: 6 minutes
Supporting displaced children in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Many people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are displaced by armed conflict and face difficulties accessing basic services for internally displaced people (IDPs). To address their most urgent needs, People in Need (PIN), together with local partner organisations and the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (MHF) – which is managed by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – has been providing conflict-affected children and their families in the Mrauk U and Minbya townships with protection and nutrition, as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance. 

Multi-faceted assistance for displaced families

Ma Cho Cho* lives in the IDP camp close to the Mrauk U township and is unable to go home due to the ongoing conflict. She says: “I fled my native village with my newborn baby who was just three days old at the time. I was frightened by the sounds of gunshots and artillery. I have lived here [in the IDP camp] for almost a year and a half, the entire time my boy has been alive.”

To help people like Ma Cho Cho, PIN has been recruiting community volunteers in select IDP sites and host communities in Mrauk U and Minbya townships. PIN provides the volunteers with training to enable them to conduct nutrition activities in the communities and to improve the lives of displaced children. PIN’s Nutrition Field Officer, Ma Thant Thant* shares her experiences conducting the trainings during the pandemic.

“Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we have only conducted several Training of Trainers (TOT) for community volunteers at the PIN office,” says Thant. “After that, the volunteers can easily train mothers on childcare. In each camp, we assigned at least five mothers and caretakers to one volunteer and provided them with topics for discussions about parenting skills, health, and family planning or protection issues.”

PIN has also supported volunteer-led nutrition awareness raising sessions in 8 IDP camps. The sessions, some in form of mother support groups (MSGs), promote healthy infant and child feeding practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life, and continued breastfeeding until children reach the age of two. The volunteers also share information on caring for infants, different childhood illnesses and healthy practices while children are sick, positive caring practices, and healthy nutrition for pregnant and lactating women. All of these practices are supported and promoted by Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports.

“When I arrived at the camp, I lacked knowledge on how to raise my baby,” says Ma Cho Cho.  "After joining the group, I learned a lot from the other mothers, from PIN, and from the volunteers. I also received hygiene kits, which included soap, toothpaste, and hand sanitiser, and even cooking sets and shelter kits for my family. I’d like to thank PIN.”

In addition, community volunteers in eight displacement sites in Mrauk U and Minbya townships have been conducting monthly, door-to-door Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) screenings for a total of 463 children aged six months to 59 months. The MUAC screening is crucial for the timely identification of severe or acute malnutrition. As poor access to food remains a critical issue, PIN has distributed nutritious food kits to more than 450 families with pregnant women and children under the age of two at 10 IDP camps in the Mrauk U and Minbya townships. The food kits contained fortified rice, chickpeas, iodised salt, dry wheat noodles, cooking oil, eggs, and long beans.

Home-based psychosocial support for children

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PIN’s protection team, with help from community volunteers and parents, adapted their community-based psychosocial support (PSS) activities to be home-based. With the aim of promoting the psychosocial well-being of children and supporting healthy childhood development, PIN has distributed PSS kits to over 400 households in five IDP camps. The kits consist of items such as comic books with COVID-19 health messages, colouring books, crayons, markers, toys, jigsaw puzzles, matching game boxes, and soccer balls.

PIN’s Protection Field Officer, Ko Koe Thet* says: “We implement our protection activities according to the Ministry of Health and Sport’s COVID-19 guidelines. Children are happy to receive the PSS kits and play with them at home with their siblings and parents. Playing at home is safer for them and helps protect them from COVID-19.” He continues, “First we trained community volunteers on PSS practices and protection mechanisms and explained how to apply PIN’s PSS curriculum for parents. Then the volunteers conducted trainings for parents and caretakers on how to use home-based PSS kits, and closely monitored parenting practices in their communities.”

Thwe Thwe*, a community volunteer, says: “I started working as a community volunteer with PIN in October 2019, mainly to conduct trainings for parents and their children. There are 30 children in our IDP camp. All are happily playing at home with these PSS kits. I also shared COVID-19 health messages and trained children on good hygiene practices, such as how to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and how to wear facemasks when they go outside.”

Kyaw Kyaw*, aged 9, wants to become a doctor. “I liked the comic books I received from PIN the most. I read them with my little sister and my mother. I know how the COVID-19 virus spreads, and that is why I wash my hands with soap and water and wear masks properly. I like football and want to play with my friends.” Ma Khaing Khaing*, Kyaw Kyaw’s mother, adds: “We have been here for almost a year now. I have two children. They play with these kits at home and do not go outside. I want to say many thanks to PIN and the staff who always care for us.”

Ma Nwe Nwe*, 33, is a housewife living in the IDP camp close to Minbya Township. She says: “I arrived at this camp in 2019 after heavy conflict erupted near our village. I have no other choice, so I stay here. I try to cope with my worries using the PSS techniques I learned from PIN. I also learned about positive parenting practices, and how to care for my children. The PSS kits are useful for my children. Now my son does not go outside and peacefully reads books and plays games from the kit at home. I thank PIN and the donor for continuing to support us in the future as well.”

Ko Thet* notes: “We’ve added some materials for physical exercises in the PSS kits, as well as drawing books for mental exercises to support the psychosocial well-being of children. Since we cannot do group exercises during the pandemic, we want them to play at home with their siblings and parents.”

He adds: “The situation in IDP camps is not easy for children. Due to the limited amount of space, we are finding it difficult to find child-friendly, safe spaces. The children tell us that they no longer want to move from one place to another due to the ongoing conflict. Sometimes, they do not feel safe. Even though they are children, they know life in the camps is more challenging for them and their parents, and this makes them sad.”

*The names of certain individuals have been changed for protection purposes.

**PIN is vague about specific locations of our activities to preserve safety and security of our staff, partners, and beneficiaries and in benefit of life-saving aid.

Author: Aye Pyae Sone, PIN Myanmar Communication Officer

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